Last month, as the coronavirus pandemic exploded in Brazil, Ricardo Garroux rode with his mother in the ambulance that rushed her to the emergency room with a severe case of COVID-19. Days later, the 57-year-old Sao Paulo lawyer was admitted to the same hospital, with the same diagnosis. Today, after two grueling weeks in treatment, he is proud to call himself "a survivor." But it was a bittersweet escape: his 88-year-old mother was not so lucky. Garroux is still weak from his ordeal. "I feel like I just climbed 10 flights of steps, not two," he says, short of breath, as he returns to his apartment in Sao Paulo's trendy Vila Madalena district after being released. His hospital stay included six days on a respirator in the intensive care unit. "Sometimes the coughing was so violent I felt like tearing my chest open," he says. At one point, he remembers, he was so weak he could not lift his arms. "I feel like I went to the front line in war, with a gun, and had to fight for my life," he told AFP. - 'Hug her one last time' - As part of his treatment, he received blood plasma transfusions from COVID-19 survivors, an experimental treatment that he believes saved his life. He still gets emotional watching a video he has kept on his cell phone. It shows hospital staff applauding him as he is wheeled down the corridor, tears in his eyes, to leave intensive care for a standard room. "In a matter of days, I went from, 'I'm going to die' to 'I'm alive!'" he says. But there is a darker side to the memory. His mother, Alzira, who contracted the virus in the retirement home where she lived, died as Garroux recovered. Garroux, who believes he contracted the virus during that fateful ambulance ride with her, watched her burial from his hospital bed via video call. "I was able to hug her one last time, since I was infected, too. If not for that, they wouldn't even have let me say goodbye," he says, visiting the nursing home where his mother lived, a mask on his face. Garroux, who is stout but healthy, with salt-and-pepper hair and animated eyes, is now picking up the pieces left by his month-long ordeal. He says although he still gets tired easily, he is surprised that his overall health is so strong. Having survived the virus, "I feel protected again," he says. Garroux says he now wants to donate his own blood plasma, which contains the precious antibodies that could help another patient survive.